In November of 2020, a diesel sheen was spotted in the Rudee Inlet area by the Virginia Beach Fire Department. That night a hazardous materials crew from the Virginia Beach Fire Department arrived on scene with absorbent pads in order to soak up as much of it as possible. The next morning, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality‘s response team arrived on scene in order to assess the situation and provide recommendations for next steps.
It was decided that an environmental clean up crew needed to be hired in order to reduce the impact of the diesel sheen on the environment. The sheen was then cleaned up by the environmental clean up crew shortly after. Excellent job to all who were involved!
So what is a diesel sheen and how do they occur? It is a very thin layer of oil that spreads on the water’s surface. So it’s either an indicator that there is a larger spill in the area, or that a vessel on the water is leaking oil. In either case, oil has a very detrimental effect on the environment where oil does not naturally occur.
For example, in this particular case, there is a lot of wildlife in the area that is not used to being exposed to oil so it can negatively impact them as well as any plants in the area. This then has a direct impact on the homeostasis in the area which can cause all kinds of problems. This also has a negative effect on humans who are exposed to it for consistent periods of time.
Oil spills of any kind can be difficult to deal with and are very expensive to clean up. With that said – who pays for this kind of thing and where does the money come from? Well it depends on who caused the spill. For example, if there is a known culprit in a situation like this – usually an accident while transporting oil to the land from off shore – the EPA will step in and ensure that the responsible party pays in order to clean up the oil. Since in this case the party responsible for the diesel sheen in unknown, the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund was utilized in order to clean up the sheen. More specifically, representatives from Sector Virginia of the Federal Government utilized the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund in order to hire the environmental team who cleaned up the diesel.
So who funds the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund? Up until December 31st of 1994, the primary source for funding came from a $0.05 per domestic oil barrel fee. This fee collection ceased due to a “sunset” provision in the law. Since then the fund collects interest which allows it to grow in size over time. There are also cost recoveries that liable parties pay which are determined by the EPA if a party is identified in a accidental spill. And the third place that the fund collects money from are any civil penalties that are collected that are related to oil spills.
The fund is administered by the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Pollution Funds Center. So in the event that there is a unidentified oil spill, the fund can provide up to $1 billion dollars for a single incident. This includes up to $500 million for natural resource damage assessments and claims in connection with any single incident.
Here is a really well explained video on how oil spills are cleaned up so that you can get a better idea of how much effort goes into these types of clean up efforts:
The National Pollution Funds Center‘s website has a ton of information on regulations, the fund itself and all of the forms with very detailed descriptions for any oil spill related incident. I was pretty surprised through my research how well of a job these organizations actually do when an unfortunate incident like this occurs.
A HUGE conservation win to have an issue like that resolved as quickly as possible!